Will Salyards
Leadership Coaching and Mentoring

Will Salyards, PhD Blog

Life, Career, Leadership

A Key Criteria for Growth

Recently I listened as an accomplished woman bemoaned her lack of decision. As we talked she asked, “Why didn’t I pull the trigger?” “Why do others make decisions that I won’t?” Her words weren’t a complaint but a genuine curiosity at why, even when knowing that an outcome could be positive, she wouldn’t commit. We discovered that she was at a limit-situation. Ever been at one? It may be that you or those you work with have encountered its growth limiting potential too. How do you get beyond limits to grow?

If you’ve encountered a limit-situation and wondered about it, or you’re actively in one right now, or you have employees that you know can be so much more but… or if your business is plagued by the same problem that you just can’t seem to get past, then this discussion could be for you.

Overall, limit-situations are those situations we cannot change but that we pretend don’t exist. They can be tricky to distinguish because our beliefs as well as the opinions of those we value tell us “that this is how things ought to be.” It could be the business owner who to continue growing must hire from the outside, but won’t; or the person experienced, qualified, and capable but that never applies for greater responsibility and its compensation.

A limit-situation isn’t about laziness nor does it have to do with lack of ambition. Neither is it about the individual who content with accomplishment decides to simply enjoy what they have. Limit-situations deal with what we allow ourselves.

I said they are tricky to distinguish and they are. In the scenarios above each person may be content and have no desire to do more; that’s fine. But you can usually hear a limit-situation when someone says they want one thing and their actions define another. So, what are you saying that you want to be different but not taking the steps to realize? There can be very good reasons why you don’t. Here are seven.

1) We’re Submerged In The Situation and Can See No Other Choice

Being “submerged” in any situation means that our everyday understanding is limited. Ultimately, it means that we don’t see another choice because we don’t believe there is another choice. Why? Because what we believe is acceptable behavior also defines the permissions we give ourselves and that we think someone like us should be given. This along with our accepted myths and defined normal strongly reinforce the understanding how people like us should be. It’s what makes limit-situations appear unchangeable: everything we’re doing is what people like us should be doing.

But we didn’t get here by ourselves. That’s what these next points are about.

2) We Think Myths Are Just In Fairytales

A myth is anything believed but that cannot be proven. Since we don’t believe in fairytales then myths aren’t a problem, right? I wouldn’t be so quick. Limit-situations are built around myths. Not all myths are bad but myths do define the permissions we give ourselves. In the case of the business owner who refused to hire from outside, her myth was based in an experience that a successful but meaningful business could only be developed with family members.

3) We Accept Normal

Normal is all about, “This is the way things ought to be” and that’s not all bad either. But sometimes the keeping power of “normal” becomes a prison. From before we knew that we were listening we have been continuously impressed and shaped by the common opinion of those around us and particularly of those we looked up to. You may recall the words, facial expressions, or even gestures of a trusted figure as they approved or disapproved of someone’s efforts. These things sent powerful messages to us about what could be but more importantly, what should be, becoming the tyranny of the “they.”

4) “What If”’ Becomes “Better Not”

Copernicus, the 13th century Polish astronomer, was at a limit-situation. His accepted myths as well as his defined normal made it clear that earth was at the center of the universe. Asking, “what if,” he discovered that it is the sun and not the earth; that “they” we’re wrong about him and about truth. What truth could you learn if you said, “What if” instead of, “better not?” What decisions might you make differently in life or in your business if you sat with a blank piece of paper and wrote all that is possible then examined each placing yourself or your business in the picture?

5) We Confuse the Transfer of Information with Inquiry

Growth occurs as we encounter limit-situations and move through them. When we ask “how” questions, it can be just a transfer of information – growth isn’t required. But we help ourselves and others grow through limit-situations by encouraging “why” questions, the questions that requires us to process information across values and beliefs and that lead to examination. And that is the key distinction: we grow by examining and then when necessary, challenging what we value and believe. Scary? Sometimes, but worth it.

6) The Possible Is Also The Unknown

When we grow through limit-situations we validate what we have always known to be true about ourselves: we aren’t a “They” but a lovable and capable “I.” To be sure, areas remain where we are every bit as much a “they” as anyone – we don’t entirely forsake our culture, our values, or even our beliefs – that would be foolish as well as dangerous but we do step away from their elements to pursue the possible.

Might we like Icarus, in his fanciful flight to the sun, fail? Yes, but failure is the risk of being human; certainty the curse of being nonhuman. Let’s remember that in sacred story the first human is told, without any preconditioning, to leave his beautiful place, enter a world of which he knew nothing, and subdue it. Risky? You bet, but fully human.

7) Fit Becomes More Important Than Function

Whether in our family units or the workplace, life demands uniformity then conformity. What we receive as myths and as normal work to domesticate us deadening our ability to think apart from their binding influence. The priority is ever upon “fit” first and “function” only second. Growing through limit-situations requires the willingness to pursue function over fit, to become and to do something different than.

Further Thought Our endeavors and we grow through encounters with limit-situations. They are unavoidable and what it means to be human. Here’s some ways to know when you may be at a limit-situation.

- When all those you rely upon for counsel agree with your decision. - When you know you’re right. - When the fear of being misunderstood by those you respect is greater than accomplishment. - When you cannot imagine any other outcome. - When you resent being asked, “Why?” - When “risk” is a four-letter word.

Want to talk about it? Coaching is a great place to start. Click here for a free coaching session.